When you see a cis actor in a trans role, such as in The Danish Girl, what’s your first thought?
It’s a man playing a woman, or vice versa? Rather than opening the mind to gender fluidity, this type of casting reinforces the traditional binary concept of male and female. There are plenty of talented trans actors to choose from, so is Hollywood really saying that a cis actor can play trans better than a trans actor?
Of course, the business argument against casting trans actors is that a bigger name will sell the show more effectively. However, if the situation doesn’t change, when will trans actors be given the chance to take bigger roles and become the bigger name?
In the entertainment industry where the cis white male still reigns supreme, it’s an even bigger struggle for BAME trans actors whose fight against prejudice is often two-fold, being overlooked on both a gender and race basis. What is the solution?
Award-winning trans actress, Alexandra Billings, told Cosmopolitan magazine that the trans community must work harder to up their game and take responsibility for their lack of visibility. “We need to improve ourselves artistically…and producers need to be braver!”
Spectrum London is a pioneering web series that champions talented trans actors.
Spectrum London is an exciting concept. Created by award-winning African film-maker, Monica Y. Dee, and written by the celebrated trans actor, Jake Graf, Spectrum London is a compelling drama series, which has not only cast BAME trans actors in trans roles, but deals with everyday trans (and non-trans) issues.
Monica is definitely one to watch, having made a number of brave moves in her career with impressive intuition and great success. She quit the security of being a partner in a law firm to embrace new entrepreneurial adventures within the film industry and now runs rKive Productions, UK Web Fest and is expected to announce the launch of an online digital content streaming start up this year.
Although she might have taken a risk in producing a web series that is so utterly unique in its content, her efforts have already paid off. Spectrum London hasn’t even been released yet, but thanks to the show’s pilot and careful exposure, it has picked up its first award: International Independent Film Award (Platinum). Here’s what Monica had to say about why this web series is hotly anticipated and already so well received:
“I have watched shows before where the story lines have been predictable and unbelievable. Spectrum is unpredictable and believable because real transgender actors who have lived and experienced the stories are portraying the characters. I specifically wanted storylines and stories that the actors could relate to themselves. I also thought it was important that we didn’t bang on about people’s gender and identity, that is why Spectrum is about the ordinary and extraordinary moments in their lives and gender is more of a sub text. I sprinkled a little bit of diversity in the mix too so we could represent the white, asian, and black communities also.”
As well as getting the lowdown from Monica, we also spoke to one of the show’s prominent BAME characters; Naechane; a trans actor and performer. Before gaining the part in Spectrum, Naechane had previously acted in the feature film Stud Life, directed by Campbell X. Prior to that; he had a successful career in the music industry as a rapper, music producer and sound engineer. His songs have been featured on the “L-word” and more recently; he performed self-penned lyrics at the International Transgender Day of Remembrance.
Q Naechane, how did you get into music / acting?
A: I think I was already a singer before I could walk. My mum was an amazing singer. She would take me on shows whenever she was performing nearby, to just about every choir in the city. I loved her voice and she taught me how to harmonise to a song of any key. I never trained professionally as a singer or rapper but I just knew I could sing. One day I tried turning a song lyric into a rap and well, the rest is history. I use my lyrics to express myself and bring awareness to issues that are somewhat easily ignored or disregarded.
How was life for you growing up?
I grew up in South America. It was the typical Caribbean household with daily chores and so on, but I always knew I was different from say around the age of 4 to 5. South America was not particularly welcoming to LGBT individuals. When I was younger the word transgender didn’t exist and anyone who identified as gay would be an outcast and bullied, not only by close family, but their entire communities.
How did your family feel about your transition?
I haven’t been back to South America since 2007. That was the year I laid my mother to rest. I wasn’t on any hormones or anything yet but the decision to transition was already made. I was already living my truth. I wore a suit to the funeral and carried the casket with my brothers. That is something the men do in the family so I was head strong to do that because I never got to tell my mother about transitioning. It felt that it was my way of telling her even though she wasn’t there. Now my siblings are getting more used to my transition and are now correcting themselves when misgendering me or using the incorrect pronouns. It’s been years and I’ve grown to understand it’s not just a transition for myself, but it’s a transition for them also and that journey will take time for us all.
Do you think it is harder for BAME men and women to reach a decision to transition and get the support they need?
I would hazard a guess and say it’s most definitely more difficult for BAME men and women to take the plunge to transition. Many who would ask me for direction and advice but hold off on their decision because of how their family would react have messaged me. There needs to be more support for the BAME trans community. With a lot of LGBT support groups lacking funding, it’s no surprise there’s a lack of support groups out there for the BAME trans community. It just takes one person to show you that they care to make a difference. You never know how much that can change someone’s day.
How do you think acceptance of BAME transgender issues can be increased?
BAME trans issues can only be highlighted with more visibility. I myself am guilty of this, as I decided to transition outside of the public eye. If no one knows we are here then change is going to be harder.
What can you tell us about Spectrum London?
The series is going to be big, that I already know. It has so much room to grow and I myself cannot wait to see it. I know people will love it.
Due to be released in March 2017, Spectrum London can be seen via the LA-based streaming app Revry app and via 4th Generation apple TV and on Vimeo.
Title photo: Naechane on Spectrum